The Trial

 
bukovsky
Moscow, 1971

This afternoon I’m leaving for London, and tomorrow I’ll be in Cambridge to watch Vladimir Bukovsky’s trial:

On Monday, 12 December 2016, Russian dissident and activist Vladimir Bukovsky will appear in Crown Court in Cambridge, UK, to face a jury trial for possession of child pornography on his home computer. The files were found by law enforcement officers, who received a tip shortly before Bukovsky was to testify in the inquiry into the murder of his close friend, former Russian secret service officer Alexander Litvinenko.

Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.

Many believe Bukovsky was framed by Russian operatives who planted the offending files on his computer. But winning a Not Guilty verdict will be a challenge for his defence team. “For such a defence to work there will need to be more than the theoretical possibility – computer code showing the presence of a back door for remote access will be expected,” said Professor Peter Sommer, who has acted in a number of leading trials and investigations for both defence and prosecution.

Members of the press are allowed to tweet from the courtroom, although not to send sound files or photos. I’m not sure whether we’re allowed to communicate beyond Tweeting: I understand it’s at the judge’s discretion. I’m @claireberlinski on Twitter. Five days of court time have been reserved, but this doesn’t mean the trial will necessarily last five days.

Yesterday, The New York Times ran a long and prominent piece about Bukovsky and other opponents of Putin. It’s very worth reading:

This blurring of all boundaries between truth and falsehood in the service of operational needs has created a climate in Russia in which even the most serious and grotesque accusations, like those involving pedophilia, are simply a currency for settling scores. Mr. Bukovsky is far from the only one fending off such allegations.

Yoann Barbereau, the French director of the Alliance Française in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, has been struggling since early last year to defend himself against charges that he posted child pornography on a website for Russian mothers. His lawyers, pointing to evidence that his computer was tampered with after his arrest, believe that the material was planted by local security service officers to punish Mr. Barbereau for an extramarital romance with a woman connected to a powerful local official. In September, after months under house arrest, Mr. Barbereau fled.

Konstantin Rubakhin, an environmental activist who lives in exile in Lithuania, also got a visit from police officers looking for child pornography. Mr. Rubakhin speculated that that raid, in June last year, may have been part of an effort to derail his application for political asylum or his work for the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, a research group that investigates corruption. In the end, the Lithuanian police dropped the case.

It’s pointless for me to speculate now, because in a few days I’ll know, for sure, what kind of evidence the Crown Prosecution Service has and what the jury concludes from it.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bukovsky’s writings, I suggest beginning with his introduction to the archives he collected. (Here’s a link to the archives themselves, which I highly recommend.)

… Looking at this line up of the Soviet “elite” I recalled an old joke which went around in the 1960s, that there are three qualities which cannot coexist biologically in one person: intellect, honesty, and party membership. One of the three was invariably excluded, so the result could be either a smart son of a bitch, or a stupid party hack. When the crisis of the regime came, that is exactly how they divided up: while the minority of clinical idiots continued to march, waving red banners, the cynical majority was quickly metamorphosing into “reformers”, “democrats”, “nationalists” and “free marketeers.” As far as they were concerned, the events in Russia did not constitute a revolution, nor liberation from totalitarianism, and certainly no sacrifice of their ideals, but simply an opportunity to advance their careers, jumping a couple of the old hierarchical steps in one go. How could CC secretary for propaganda from the Ukrainian satrapy, Kravchuk, pass up the chance to become President of a sovereign, nuclear state? Or economics editor of Pravda, Gaidar, the post of Prime Minister of Russia? And who cares whether this is now called democracy or socialism? For people like these, who were devoted only to their own privileges, “democracy” meant merely new opportunities for deceit, and the “market economy” meant only one thing — corruption. For that reason, they would stifle any independent initiative under the guise of stamping out corruption, while justifying their own corruption by “market forces.” Having seized power with a Lenin like grasp, they will never allow anything new to develop, apart from one thing: a new mafia in place of the old. …

Everything in my life proved to be a host of phantoms, nothing more. All that remained was an enormous cemetery, in which, as everyone knows, triumph belongs to the worms.

There was also dismay, bitterness, a feeling of helplessness and of a wasted life:

Why the hell could we not have brought this chapter of our history to a more worthy conclusion? What did we overlook? Where did we go wrong? Or maybe all our efforts were hopeless and senseless right from the start?

 

There are 34 comments.

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  1. Thatcher

    More and more, the long arm of the Totalitarian State (Russia, China, North Korea come to mind) reaches far outside the State’s boundaries to find and inactivate their perceived enemies. With the rise of the Internet-connected world, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to disappear, or protect themselves. We all should be very afraid, especially now that the Obama Administration has handed the Internet over to them to censor or monitor to their Totalitarian hearts’ content.

    On a lighter note, try to get out a bit, Claire, and take in the beauties of Cambridge.

    • #1
    • December 9, 2016 at 10:51 pm
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  2. Member

    Those questions in the last paragraph are my questions, too. I don’t have the answers, but we may wish we had them for our own sake.

    • #2
    • December 10, 2016 at 1:09 am
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  3. Member

    Maybe it’s because we’ve long dreamed of systems so perfect no one will have to be good, only to discover that we are all bad when it comes right down to it. But then I’m a Catholic and go to Mass and confession because I know I am not good, and I try to use that knowledge to avoid the conceit that man can build the City of God and crown himself king. Whether on the level of the individual or of the society as a whole it’s: Try, fail, Try. fail, try again.

    “And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.” Matthew, 19:26.

    • #3
    • December 10, 2016 at 1:24 am
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  4. Contributor

    The only hackers that leave evidence behind are the sloppy ones and the boastful ones.

    • #4
    • December 10, 2016 at 5:31 am
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  5. Thatcher

    It is just a shame he is neither a BBC personality nor a Muslim, then TPTB would be actively suppressing all allegations.

    • #5
    • December 10, 2016 at 5:41 am
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  6. Thatcher

    The cops say they got a tip. I’d really be interested in the tipster and how he or she came by this information.

    Compromising the security of an individual’s computer would be fairly easy for the FSB.

    • #6
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:07 am
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  7. Member

    Wait, but who is looking after the cats?!

    Sorry. Personal note. Carry on.

    • #7
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:27 am
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  8. Member

    I just listened to the Smart Girl Politics podcast here with Michelle Malkin and her new investigative program about a miscarriage of justice case. Perhaps she should interview you and others about this story.

    • #8
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:53 am
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  9. Member

    Percival:The cops say they got a tip. I’d really be interested in the tipster and how he or she came by this information.

    Compromising the security of an individual’s computer would be fairly easy for the FSB.

    That’s something that needs to be part of the standard – and allowable – defense in cases like this.

    Who was the tipster, and how did they know what was on that computer? If a random person with no physical access to the machine can find out what’s in it, then either the owner told them about it (not likely) or the tipster has the ability to access the machine remotely. If they’re not a reputable person, then it all goes out the window.

    What I’d really like would be for anonymous tips to be disallowed in almost all cases (barring a direct threat to the tipster’s life).

    At the very least, I want police to start reporting on how many anonymous tips they receive in a typical week, how many they follow up… and, of course, why they picked those particular ones to act on. If they get a hundred and act on half, that’s one thing, but if they get a hundred and act only on one or two, that’s another.

    • #9
    • December 10, 2016 at 7:26 am
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  10. Thatcher

    cirby: Who was the tipster, and how did they know what was on that computer? If a random person with no physical access to the machine can find out what’s in it, then either the owner told them about it (not likely) or the tipster has the ability to access the machine remotely. If they’re not a reputable person, then it all goes out the window.

    The only thing I’d add to that list is if there is a penetration, it is “script kiddie” stuff to upload or download whatever you felt like to whatever website you wanted. That could easily be the case with M. Barbereau.

    • #10
    • December 10, 2016 at 7:42 am
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  11. Inactive

    I hope your coverage goes well. Do you expect many other journalists to attend? I haven’t seen his story in any UK media recently..not sure why, maybe all the airtime is swallowed up by Brexit and the Football paedophile scandal. Still, I hope there are some opportunities for you to get onto radio or comment in print media.

    • #11
    • December 10, 2016 at 8:43 am
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  12. Member

    Kate Braestrup:Wait, but who is looking after the cats?!

    Sorry. Personal note. Carry on.

    Silly.

    • #12
    • December 10, 2016 at 10:43 am
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  13. Member

    I wonder if the real story is being missed here. Considering what has been occurring in the UK for the past several years one is hard pressed not to conclude that at least half of its leadership has been bought out by Russian oligarchs and Middle East oil barons.

    This case stinks to high heaven and it is hardly the only example of such going on in that nation.

    • #13
    • December 10, 2016 at 10:47 am
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  14. Inactive

    The question for every show trial is — why do you bother with the pretense?

    There’s a glimmer of hope when they, at least, pretend to adhere to proper procedure. It means that they still have some slight fear of what will happen if the people utterly lose trust in them. They know that if the people think you’re ignoring proper procedure, sooner or later the people will know that you’ll ignore any other sense of truth or even fairness. In other words, if the people think all the rules are ignored, there’s nothing to prevent them from just murdering the dictator at the earliest opportunity.

    Besides, this trial comes at a crucial time for Putin. Putin needs to retain some vestige of legitimacy – he’s got a new American president who seems willing to make deals, but (we presume) will back out if Putin blows it. Putin needs to keep some pretense of fairness right now.

    We hope so, at least.

    • #14
    • December 10, 2016 at 11:14 am
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  15. Thatcher

    Kate Braestrup:Wait, but who is looking after the cats?!

    Sorry. Personal note. Carry on.

    Where’s the “Kate & the Tigers of Paris” post?

    • #15
    • December 10, 2016 at 11:22 am
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  16. Member

    Percival:

    Kate Braestrup:Wait, but who is looking after the cats?!

    Sorry. Personal note. Carry on.

    Where’s the “Kate & the Tigers of Paris” post?

    This is the closest I’ve come so far, Percival!

    • #16
    • December 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm
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  17. Member

    If I may ask, what is the legal status of a “tip”? Does that alone justify search and seizure by the police of the computers? That seems like really weak “probable cause”, at least in America. Is it different in the UK?

    Also, who has the burden of proof and why in this case? Does the government have to show that the suspect was the one to download stuff, although I guess the presence of the items on the computer is enough proof?

    Does the defendant need to prove with reasonable doubt or beyond such doubt that someone else put the illicit content on his computer?

    • #17
    • December 10, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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  18. Member

    KC Mulville:

    The question for every show trial is — why do you bother with the pretense?

    There’s a glimmer of hope when they, at least, pretend to adhere to proper procedure. It means that they still have some slight fear of what will happen if the people utterly lose trust in them. They know that if the people think you’re ignoring proper procedure, sooner or later the people will know that you’ll ignore any other sense of truth or even fairness. In other words, if the people think all the rules are ignored, there’s nothing to prevent them from just murdering the dictator at the earliest opportunity.

    I’m currently reading (listening to) The Maisky Diaries, which provides some evidence that that is exactly why Stalin conducted the show trials. He was hoping for an alliance with western countries against Hitler, and the purges were not helping. If I remember right, Maisky himself, as Soviet ambassador to Britain, pointed out that for PR purposes it was important how the west perceived them (even as he had to live with the fear that he himself would become one of the purged ones).

    • #18
    • December 10, 2016 at 2:04 pm
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  19. Coolidge

    ModEcon: Does the government have to show that the suspect was the one to download stuff, although I guess the presence of the items on the computer is enough proof?

    I am also concerned about this as I have a medical colleague, an excellent physician, who has been charged with this. I have no knowledge of what the details are but his career is over. I certainly hope they have some better standard of proof than “a tip.”

    • #19
    • December 10, 2016 at 2:10 pm
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  20. Contributor

    Percival:The cops say they got a tip. I’d really be interested in the tipster and how he or she came by this information.

    Compromising the security of an individual’s computer would be fairly easy for the FSB.

    It sure would, and the tipster should be investigated. This whole thing stinks.

    • #20
    • December 10, 2016 at 4:36 pm
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  21. Contributor

    Claire, there ought to be a book in this. One could build it around the show trial of Vladimir Bukovsky and have digressions on the various other enemies of Putin who have been assassinated or framed.

    As you know, my one fear about the President-elect is that he is blind to the Russian monster. I am hoping that, like other things he has done or said, this can be attributed to a passing clownishness. But . . . if it turns out that Putin has beguiled the man there ought to be someone out front going after the Russian thug, and that someone could be you.

    • #21
    • December 10, 2016 at 4:43 pm
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  22. Coolidge
    ST

    “Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.”

    Now that Bukovsky is out of Russia doubt the FSB is too concerned about him one way or another. This is and what happened to the other 3 and various journalists is primarily about controlling “the narrative” inside mother Russia.

    • #22
    • December 10, 2016 at 4:54 pm
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  23. Member

    Simon Templar:

    “Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.”

    Now that Bukovsky is out of Russia doubt the FSB is too concerned about him one way or another. This is and what happened to the other 3 and various journalists is primarily about controlling “the narrative” inside mother Russia.

    Then why all the other assassinations of Russians outside of Russia?

    • #23
    • December 10, 2016 at 4:57 pm
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  24. Coolidge
    ST

    The Reticulator:Those questions in the last paragraph are my questions, too. I don’t have the answers, but we may wish we had them for our own sake.

    I think those questions are pretty well addressed in the book by Chrystia Freeland: Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism.

    “In well-written first-person accounts, Freeland goes on to describe how scrappy entrepreneurs made overnight fortunes and then lost them just as quickly to widespread corruption and the 1998 Russian stock market crash. By the end of the 1990s, the economy was half what it had been at the start of the decade, producing less than Belgium and only 25 percent more than Poland. Meanwhile, power blackouts, wildcat strikes, and water shortages had become commonplace. Additionally, the ordinary citizen often grew worse off than before the fall of communism, while a powerful few came to own nearly everything. This cautionary tale ends with a more “workaday economy” emerging from the wreckage, and the author’s hope that Russia’s economic leaders can stay this new, more-balanced course. All signs to date, however, leave her decidedly pessimistic.” –Howard Rothman

    https://www.amazon.com/Sale-Century-Russias-Communism-Capitalism/dp/0812932153

    • #24
    • December 10, 2016 at 5:08 pm
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  25. Coolidge
    ST

    The Reticulator:

    Simon Templar:

    “Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.”

    Now that Bukovsky is out of Russia doubt the FSB is too concerned about him one way or another. This is and what happened to the other 3 and various journalists is primarily about controlling “the narrative” inside mother Russia.

    Then why all the other assassinations of Russians outside of Russia?

    To let Russian journalists and would be dissidents know that they can run but they cannot hide.

    • #25
    • December 10, 2016 at 5:11 pm
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  26. Member

    Ma’am, I do not maintain a “Twitter” account but I am keenly interested in this trial. And, I share all of the concerns expressed above. Please let us know here at Ricochet how it progresses by posting your “tweets” or other bulletins as you have time.

    Also, if the matter is taken up in the trial or other places, please let us know what is said to justify the statute that punishes as a criminal offense merely having possession of such matter? I yield to none in my abhorrence of juvenile pornography (although I never have seen any) and even the idea of juvenile pornography. Yet, so long as one has not been party to creating it, making its production financially rewarding (e.g., by paying to get it), distributing it, or displaying it to others, it seems terribly invasive of a citizen’s personal privacy to punish him for merely having it on a computer or in a desk drawer.

    I wonder whether in former times one could have been prosecuted for having a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover on his bookshelf.

    • #26
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:28 pm
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  27. Member

    Simon Templar:I think those questions are pretty well addressed in the book by Chrystia Freeland: Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism.

    “In well-written first-person accounts, Freeland goes on to describe how scrappy entrepreneurs made overnight fortunes and then lost them just as quickly to widespread corruption and the 1998 Russian stock market crash. By the end of the 1990s, the economy was half what it had been at the start of the decade, producing less than Belgium and only 25 percent more than Poland. Meanwhile, power blackouts, wildcat strikes, and water shortages had become commonplace. Additionally, the ordinary citizen often grew worse off than before the fall of communism, while a powerful few came to own nearly everything. This cautionary tale ends with a more “workaday economy” emerging from the wreckage, and the author’s hope that Russia’s economic leaders can stay this new, more-balanced course. All signs to date, however, leave her decidedly pessimistic.” –Howard Rothman

    https://www.amazon.com/Sale-Century-Russias-Communism-Capitalism/dp/0812932153

    I’ve read much of this history (though not this particular book) from many other sources . I don’t see how it answers the question:

    Why the hell could we not have brought this chapter of our history to a more worthy conclusion? What did we overlook? Where did we go wrong? Or maybe all our efforts were hopeless and senseless right from the start?

    • #27
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:42 pm
    • Like
  28. Member

    Simon Templar:

    The Reticulator:

    Simon Templar:

    “Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.”

    Now that Bukovsky is out of Russia doubt the FSB is too concerned about him one way or another. This is and what happened to the other 3 and various journalists is primarily about controlling “the narrative” inside mother Russia.

    Then why all the other assassinations of Russians outside of Russia?

    To let Russian journalists and would be dissidents know that they can run but they cannot hide.

    In that case, why would they ignore Bukovsky?

    • #28
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:43 pm
    • Like
  29. Coolidge
    ST

    The Reticulator:

    Simon Templar:

    The Reticulator:

    Simon Templar:

    “Bukovsky was so hated by the FSB that he appeared on a leaked hit list of five people slated for assassination. Two of those five are now dead; another has been poisoned.”

    Now that Bukovsky is out of Russia doubt the FSB is too concerned about him one way or another. This is and what happened to the other 3 and various journalists is primarily about controlling “the narrative” inside mother Russia.

    Then why all the other assassinations of Russians outside of Russia?

    To let Russian journalists and would be dissidents know that they can run but they cannot hide.

    In that case, why would they ignore Bukovsky?

    Appears as if they are not.

    • #29
    • December 10, 2016 at 6:58 pm
    • Like
  30. Coolidge
    ST

    The Reticulator:

    Simon Templar:I think those questions are pretty well addressed in the book by Chrystia Freeland: Sale of the Century: Russia’s Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism.

    “In well-written first-person accounts, Freeland goes on to describe how scrappy entrepreneurs made overnight fortunes and then lost them just as quickly to widespread corruption and the 1998 Russian stock market crash. By the end of the 1990s, the economy was half what it had been at the start of the decade, producing less than Belgium and only 25 percent more than Poland. Meanwhile, power blackouts, wildcat strikes, and water shortages had become commonplace. Additionally, the ordinary citizen often grew worse off than before the fall of communism, while a powerful few came to own nearly everything. This cautionary tale ends with a more “workaday economy” emerging from the wreckage, and the author’s hope that Russia’s economic leaders…” –Howard Rothman

    https://www.amazon.com/Sale-Century-Russias-Communism-Capitalism/dp/0812932153

    I’ve read much of this history (though not this particular book) from many other sources . I don’t see how it answers the question:

    Why the hell could we not have brought this chapter of our history to a more worthy conclusion? What did we overlook? Where did we go wrong? Or maybe all our efforts were hopeless and senseless right from the start?

    Guess you’d have to read the book to find out for yourself whether or not it answers any of those questions.

    • #30
    • December 10, 2016 at 7:00 pm
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